OPINION PIECE: WE ARE BECOMING AN AUTHORITARIAN STATE

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The various factions within the ANC have used the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to fast-track their ideological positions from behind the scenes. One sees this being displayed almost daily. Before you accuse me of being a conspiracy theorist, I will endeavour to back up my claims.

Let’s start with a most revealing tweet this weekend from Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni who tweeted the rejection of “Bakuninism” and explained that government should care for its citizens, join international solidarity and care for our neighbours in a “balanced and responsible manner”. Bakuninism was developed by Mikhail Bakunin, an extreme leftist, who founded collective anarchism. Mboweni’s tweet clearly highlights the continued factions and splits that exist in the ANC. To quote my colleague, Ghaleb Cachalia, in reference to the tweet, “It speaks of the struggle within the ANC, between those who champion a revolutionary conspiracy under autocratic leadership and those who don’t.” 

Throughout the whole coronavirus pandemic and particularly during the lockdown period, we are seeing more and more blatant autocratic acts taking place. Take Lt-Gen Rudzani Maphwanya, the chief of joint operations within the SANDF who said nobody would be allowed to undermine a task mandated by their commander-in-chief, President Cyril Ramaphosa, who only a few weeks ago proudly wore a military uniform. The media reported extensively what Maphwanya had said; “while we’re being provoked, law enforcement agencies will not allow anybody to insult the president. We’ll react immediately.” Clearly, the stage is being set to create a public perception that the President is our “Supreme Leader” and that no one is to dare oppose him. Maphwanya’s view is not supported by law. 

In addition to that, government is “repurposing” the State to become a left-leaning autocracy. Firstly, government has ensured that it goes not have to account to Parliament. The plan was for Parliament to have been shut down. Initially portfolio and other meetings were not held in the guise of the lockdown. Ramaphosa’s government has done everything to ensure that the constitutionally mandated committees of parliament do not meet and thus would be unable provide oversight. 

It was only once the DA Chief Whip, Natasha Massoni and DA members of the shadow cabinet challenged their respective committee chairpersons about the resumption of parliamentary meetings, that we started to see action. Before that there were excuses of technical and technological problems, despite parliament and its members being fully equipped technologically. The fact that some grade 2’s were being taught virtually illustrates what a joke this was. Then when meetings were indeed held, the basic education minister Angie Motshekga tried to chair a portfolio committee meeting! This is unheard of in any real democracy!  

Excepting for superficial information throughout this time, government has blocked any detail about the “National Central Command” (NCC). To date, no one knows what the powers and functions are of the NCC. The lockdown period has shown that it is unaccountable, wields substantial powers and, like a dictatorship, issues regulations, which in many cases make no sense, where they do nothing to address the COVID-19 crisis. 

The Disaster Management Act tells us that in a State of Disaster the national executive is “primarily responsible for the co-ordination and management of national disasters”. The Act is clear; the executive must co-ordinate and manage national disasters. Nowhere does it say that that all power must be centralised. The Act further describes that this co-ordination and management must take place in terms of existing legislation. 

Government has successfully duped South Africans into thinking that the lockdown will be lifted at the end of the month when it reality it has not eased up as promised. Government simply amends regulations creating a smokescreen of legitimacy. 

The squeezing of the authoritarian clamps on Parliament has not stopped. The Leader of the Official Opposition, John Steenhuisen has been reported to the Speaker for tweeting a letter from the President informing Parliament that he had deployed the entire South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The letter was public knowledge as it has been tabled at the defence committee as part of a brief by defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. 

Other trends leave chills down my spine. Some of the stories that we read in newspapers and on social media we last saw in apartheid South Africa. There have been numerous videos unloaded showing how soldiers forced civilians to do embarrassing and undignified acts. In one case, a man was severely assaulted for having a drink on his property, which is completely legal. The man was so badly assaulted that he succumbed to them. 

But what do you expect when you have a minister encouraging these illegal practices. Police minister Bheki Cele is a supreme example of this; almost every week we see how this obscene minister breaks the law. In enforcing laws and regulations, he simultaneously also breaks other laws. Examples include Cele warning that police officers who confiscate illegally sold liquor, will also destroy the venue from where the liquor is sold. No law or regulations permits this, even if illegal activities do take place at the venue. Professor Pierre de Vos from the University of Cape Town explained recently that SAPS or SANDF members who follow Cele’s call to destroy infrastructure will be committing a criminal offence of malicious injury to property, which is defined as “unlawfully and intentionally damaging the property of another”. De Vos posits that the Minister’s statement could thus be read as incitement to commit a crime which can also be a civil claim. The brazen disrespect for the law and the Constitution by the police minister is particularly concerning considering that he, as a government executive member, should embody our Constitution. 

Then we have the cigarette ban, the selling of hot food fiasco, the banning on sales of anything from the selling of socks to toasters to flowers and hairspray. All of which has no empirical data demonstrating that this assists in the fight against Corona. Please understand that this has nothing to do with cigarettes, rotisserie chickens or the sale socks for that matter. It has everything to do to show who is “boss” and who is in total control, who controls people and who controls the economy, even if it means destroying it at the same time. It has to do with the leftists in the ANC who have a dream of South African becoming an autocratic state which is completely dominated and controlled by one party. 

The announcement of a stage 4 curfew when there was no curfew on stage 5 (not that a curfew could be justified then either), is another example of how our Constitution is being ignored and how authoritarianism is fast creeping in. 

This weekend, I was shocked to see on social media how police had raided a prayer meeting of about 20 Muslim men. The defenceless men were humiliated by being made to lie down on the ground whilst the police officers said, “So you think the president is crazy? …You think you’re bigger than the president? …You think your Mohammed is bigger than the president?” Besides the blasphemy and the fact that this took place during the holy month of Ramadaan, this incident alone demonstrates how a litany of our Bill of Rights was contravened. Indeed, it must be noted that the worshippers were contravening regulations, but they should have been dealt with fairly and appropriately and within the law. If this incident isn’t an unambiguous example of authoritarianism and complete disregard for our Constitution by the State, then I don’t know what is! 

This is not a recent trend, this authoritarianism by stealth had started long before the Corona pandemic. An example is an incident earlier this year when on budget day, DA Leader John Steenhuisen and other MPs were prevented from entering the parliamentary precinct despite laws ensuring that this cannot happen. All the pandemic has done is to ensure that the plan for authoritarianism is sped up.

The DA will continue to fight this to ensure that all South Africans are protected where the correct balance is struck between protecting the lives and livelihoods of all people within the framework of our Constitution. 

Manny de Freitas

MP Shadow Minister of Tourism Democratic Alliance

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